It's that magical time of year once again. The time for the most thrilling, edge of your seat competitiveness in all of sports, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Matchup-wise, the Blackhawks will be facing a very mentally and physically beat up St. Louis Blues team that has dropped its last 6 straight contests. If victorious, in the second round they could face the Colorado Avalanche (if they beat the Minnesota Wild) who got the better of the Hawks during the regular season (1-4 season series).
The Avalanche often appeared to be a young, hungry team with an unbeatable goalie in Varlamov, especially against the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks obviously have way more experience in the playoffs than the Avs, and although Varlamov tormented the Hawks in 4 regular season bouts, a playoff series is another animal.
The matchups will get fiercer as the playoffs play out, but the Hawks have players who know what it takes to win when they have to and can roll simply unparalleled line combinations.
LINE COMBINATIONS: Maybe you don't see the most dangerous combinations until deeper in like last year, but here are the lines that could give them the best chance in any series:
Kane - Toews - Bickell
Sharp - Shaw - Hossa
Saad - Regin - Morin
Smith - Kruger – Bollig
Although Handzus helped a great deal last year and is still good on the dot, Regin is just more dependable in the line up. He's got more speed (not saying much) and has been consistently playing hard.
He's a fan favorite, and it was a solid move to bring him back, but Kris Versteeg has simply under-performed for the Hawks this season. Versteeg may see less than ideal playoff time.
During the Hawks' recent 4-game winning streak, we saw some flashes of Playoff Bryan Bickell who was a key factor in the Blackhawks hoisting the Cup at the end of last season. It also helps to have hungry, young blood boiling for Stanley Cup glory.
Bickell's linemate, 22-year-old Jeremy Morin has greatly sparked the team with his recent stint in the show, scoring 4 goals and grabbing 2 assists in the Hawks' last 6 games.
Aside from scoring, Morin plays with a physical edge that makes him a must in Q's playoff line combinations.
As far as the shoo-ins go, Marian Hossa has been playing some of his best hockey and scored his 30th goal of the regular season Saturday night during the Hawks' final regular season game against the Nashville Predators.
Speaking of future Hawks hall of famers, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be fresh as fresh can be for the start of the playoffs in St. Louis Thursday. The pair missed the last couple weeks with injuries, but obviously sat a little extra to rest up after playing loads of hockey this year (Sochi).
Patrick Sharp could get hot during the playoffs, as he often has this season, and bury a few big goals. Duncan Keith, although enjoying a likely Norris Trophy winning season, needs to be a little better than he's been down the stretch.
He too has played A LOT of hockey this season and sat the Blackhawks' last 2 games to take a breather. Keith and his linemate Brent Seabrook no doubt have tons of experience shutting teams down in the playoffs and will be looking to start things off on the right foot.
Where fans should fret is the penalty kill. The team no doubt missed Michael Frolik on the PK all season and finished ranked 20th in the league (81.5%). On the positive, they finished ranked 9th on the PP (19.5%). Both could be the difference between winning or losing a series (depending on whistle tendencies).
Scott King is a contributing writer for The Wall Street Journal and RedEye Chicago. Follow "Blackhawks Crazy" on Facebook.
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